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Fierce Appetites: Loving, Losing and Living to Excess in My Present and in the Writings of the Past

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Every day a beloved father dies. Every day a lover departs. Every day a woman turns forty. All three happening together brings a moment of reckoning. Medieval historian Elizabeth Boyle made sense of these events the best way she knew how - by immersing herself in the literature that has been her first love and life's work for over two decades. Fierce Appetites is the exhilara Every day a beloved father dies. Every day a lover departs. Every day a woman turns forty. All three happening together brings a moment of reckoning. Medieval historian Elizabeth Boyle made sense of these events the best way she knew how - by immersing herself in the literature that has been her first love and life's work for over two decades. Fierce Appetites is the exhilarating and deeply humane result. Not only does Elizabeth Boyle write dazzling accounts of ancient stories, familiar and obscure, from Ireland and further afield, but she uses her historical learning to grapple with the raw and urgent questions she faces, questions that have bedevilled people in every age. She writes on grief, addiction, family breakdown, the complexities of motherhood, love and sex, memory, class, education, travel (and staying put) with unflinching honesty, deep compassion and occasional dark humour. Fierce Appetites is captivating and original - as an insight into the mind and heart of a groundbreaking scholar, and as a wise and reassuring account of what it is to be human.


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Every day a beloved father dies. Every day a lover departs. Every day a woman turns forty. All three happening together brings a moment of reckoning. Medieval historian Elizabeth Boyle made sense of these events the best way she knew how - by immersing herself in the literature that has been her first love and life's work for over two decades. Fierce Appetites is the exhilara Every day a beloved father dies. Every day a lover departs. Every day a woman turns forty. All three happening together brings a moment of reckoning. Medieval historian Elizabeth Boyle made sense of these events the best way she knew how - by immersing herself in the literature that has been her first love and life's work for over two decades. Fierce Appetites is the exhilarating and deeply humane result. Not only does Elizabeth Boyle write dazzling accounts of ancient stories, familiar and obscure, from Ireland and further afield, but she uses her historical learning to grapple with the raw and urgent questions she faces, questions that have bedevilled people in every age. She writes on grief, addiction, family breakdown, the complexities of motherhood, love and sex, memory, class, education, travel (and staying put) with unflinching honesty, deep compassion and occasional dark humour. Fierce Appetites is captivating and original - as an insight into the mind and heart of a groundbreaking scholar, and as a wise and reassuring account of what it is to be human.

30 review for Fierce Appetites: Loving, Losing and Living to Excess in My Present and in the Writings of the Past

  1. 5 out of 5

    Alwynne

    The subtitle for this is so misleading, making it sound like a vaguely sensationalist variation on Eat, Pray, Love when it’s a different animal altogether – and a much better book. But Elizabeth Boyle’s talked about the headache this gave her publicists, with its combination of reflections on social and intellectual history and early Irish literature, bumping up against thoughts on current affairs from Black Lives Matter to the handling of the pandemic. Inspired by medieval Irish annals, this is The subtitle for this is so misleading, making it sound like a vaguely sensationalist variation on Eat, Pray, Love when it’s a different animal altogether – and a much better book. But Elizabeth Boyle’s talked about the headache this gave her publicists, with its combination of reflections on social and intellectual history and early Irish literature, bumping up against thoughts on current affairs from Black Lives Matter to the handling of the pandemic. Inspired by medieval Irish annals, this is structured as a chronicle of a year in her life, here 2020. It began badly with the loss of her father, before shifting into the plague year still fresh in our collective memory. Boyle, uprooted, from home in Ireland, moved in with her stepmother in Suffolk to wait things out. Boyle’s an academic by trade, her area’s medieval Ireland and Old Irish, here her thematic, month-by-month, entries mingle details of her everyday and memories of her past, her struggles with anxiety, her turbulent relationships, her difficult childhood, with musings on the connections and disconnections between now and medieval times: the nature of history; time; even concepts of the self. She introduces characters from Irish sagas alongside those from her own life in all its messy, sprawling, complexity. She’s quite a character herself, irreverent, outspoken, unashamedly addicted to alcohol, sweaty sex, and obscure forms of heavy metal, which led to numerous flings with musicians. She’s also the first in her family to go to university, a former Cambridge fellow, highly respected in her field, who’s now based in Early Irish at Maynooth University, not far from Dublin. I found her immensely likeable, recognisably flawed, intellectually curious, incredibly well-informed on her subject, she manages to make medieval Irish mythology, society and writing accessible, vivid and completely compelling, surprisingly relevant to thinking about the present.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Siria

    Even a couple of hours after finishing this book, I honestly can't decide if I think Elizabeth Boyle is brave or foolhardy. It's one thing to write a set of essays which are deeply personal reflections on your life intertwined with observations on the history and literature of early medieval Ireland, and another to publish them knowing that you've got another few decades ahead of you of teaching at the university level and that inevitably some of your students will read what you've written. I wo Even a couple of hours after finishing this book, I honestly can't decide if I think Elizabeth Boyle is brave or foolhardy. It's one thing to write a set of essays which are deeply personal reflections on your life intertwined with observations on the history and literature of early medieval Ireland, and another to publish them knowing that you've got another few decades ahead of you of teaching at the university level and that inevitably some of your students will read what you've written. I wouldn't be keen on standing in front of a lecture hall and looking out at a sea of faces, knowing that they know about the threesomes I've had, or the colour of my pubic hair, or that I'm actively (and it seems unrepentantly?) an alcoholic. Boyle clearly does academia very differently from me, and truth be told I don't think we'd click should we ever meet. I did, however, find myself admiring the passion that she brings to her scholarship, and the evident deep affection that she has for her subjects. She makes some incisive observations about history, and the past, and memory, and her prose is finely turned without being precious about it. This should appeal to a wide range of readers, and even if you're not overly interested in the Ireland of the Early Middle Ages, you might find yourself enjoying this. (Minor note: I understand why the publishers probably felt like a cover with late medieval European art/motifs was the way to go in selling this book, but it does feel out of place with a book that largely focuses on the history of Ireland pre-1100.)

  3. 4 out of 5

    Nicola Pierce

    What a fascinating read this was! I thoroughly enjoyed this compelling mix of memoir intertwined with a vast introductory course in medieval literature. Most of the writers she mentioned were completely new to me and it was a privilege to have her provide such a tour. Lordy - to be that intelligent and passionate about your life. I envied her and I envied her students. Boyle shows us how to read, how to be curious, how to learn, how to teach - ultimately, how to apply old texts and their writers What a fascinating read this was! I thoroughly enjoyed this compelling mix of memoir intertwined with a vast introductory course in medieval literature. Most of the writers she mentioned were completely new to me and it was a privilege to have her provide such a tour. Lordy - to be that intelligent and passionate about your life. I envied her and I envied her students. Boyle shows us how to read, how to be curious, how to learn, how to teach - ultimately, how to apply old texts and their writers to our everyday lives. It is also brutally honest in the account of her life and her time in lockdown. She really does bleed onto the page as she describes troubled relationships with relatives and lovers along with copious amounts of alcohol for which she does not apologise. And she writes about writing this book too which was the result of an email that she sent to reassure her students in lockdown. The writing of this book is part of the story she is telling. Highly recommend it!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Julie Sotelo

    The next time I'm embarrassed running into my students in gym clothes, I will remember this professor, who discusses her threesomes, drinking problem, and unplanned pregnancy in detail! The next time I'm embarrassed running into my students in gym clothes, I will remember this professor, who discusses her threesomes, drinking problem, and unplanned pregnancy in detail!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Glenn Mills

    Elizabeth Boyle was a familiar name from my time doing research on early mediaeval Ireland, so when ‘Fierce Appetites’ came out, Amazon’s invasive algorithms were waterboarding me with ads. The book weaves seamlessly between autobiography and historical exposition, as Boyle finds perennial learning in the writings and lived experiences of Irish poets, historians and religious figures from a millennium ago. In each chapter, Boyle recounts a stage of her life, candidly discussing matters such as p Elizabeth Boyle was a familiar name from my time doing research on early mediaeval Ireland, so when ‘Fierce Appetites’ came out, Amazon’s invasive algorithms were waterboarding me with ads. The book weaves seamlessly between autobiography and historical exposition, as Boyle finds perennial learning in the writings and lived experiences of Irish poets, historians and religious figures from a millennium ago. In each chapter, Boyle recounts a stage of her life, candidly discussing matters such as personal loss, depression, familial disfunction, drugs, sex and alcoholism with a deft mixture of pathos and humour. As each anecdote circles back to something some 11th-century eccentric experienced or wrote, the reader is reminded about just how universal the human condition is. Boyle combines the above personal exploration with shrewd political commentary on a variety of contemporary issues: statue removal, gender fluidity and the nostalgia-induced shift to the right in Britain and America to name a few. In each case, she uses historical precedent to dismantle inane ideas about ‘traditional values’ and the locus amoenus of a distant past that never really existed. I’m sure there are other scholars out there who have toyed with the idea of telling their stories, and I hope Boyle’s work will impel at least some of them to do so.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Catriona Cooper

    Heart achingly beautiful. I loved viewing the Irish medieval material through a contemporary expert lens alongside a life.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Melissa

    Just finished reading this beautiful, brave, smart, lambent book, and I am absolutely blown away. It took me much longer than books usually do, because I kept putting it down to think about what I'd just read, Googling stories she included and reading them, and going back and re-reading sections because they resonated so deeply and were so beautifully written. Brilliant, and brava to the author, Elizabeth Boyle! Fellow readers and booklovers, if you haven't read it yet and you have any interest a Just finished reading this beautiful, brave, smart, lambent book, and I am absolutely blown away. It took me much longer than books usually do, because I kept putting it down to think about what I'd just read, Googling stories she included and reading them, and going back and re-reading sections because they resonated so deeply and were so beautifully written. Brilliant, and brava to the author, Elizabeth Boyle! Fellow readers and booklovers, if you haven't read it yet and you have any interest at all in medieval studies, Irish history and literature, or vibrant, intelligent, and humane memoirs of love and loss and being a human being, I urge you to read this book. It's easily one of my favorite things I've read as a writer and a medievalist in recent memory. SO GOOD!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ana

    One of the best books I've read this year. No idea how I ended up buying this book as I don't really remember picking it up, but obviously I did, and I am so happy that I have. Amazing and brutaly honest at times, the author combines her life experiences and history knowledge to create narrative that is impossible to step away from. One of the best books I've read this year. No idea how I ended up buying this book as I don't really remember picking it up, but obviously I did, and I am so happy that I have. Amazing and brutaly honest at times, the author combines her life experiences and history knowledge to create narrative that is impossible to step away from.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jade

    The intensely personal & passionate blend of modern life and medieval yarn that you didn't know you were missing. The intensely personal & passionate blend of modern life and medieval yarn that you didn't know you were missing.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jenny Hughes

    Not a fan (or rather have little knowledge of medieval Ireland) but this book brings you on a thematic ride through 5th-12th century Ireland while somehow seamlessly exploring modern issues and events during 2020 and the pandemic. Interesting read after 32 Words for Field as it offers a much more factual account of Irelands history and the dangers of misinformation or false remembering for nationalistic or personal reasonings/justification

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ambrogio Lorenzetti

    I feel conflicted about this book but I was hooked and very involved and so I’m giving it 4 stars. Boyle has basically written an account of her experience of lockdown and she comes across as a frank and witty and sometimes bitter presence. It’s a totally unique kind of book, overlapping with her memories and interpretations of medieval Irish and Welsh literature. There are some off-key moments when one feels that Boyle is worrying too much about what Twitter will make of her, but the books is v I feel conflicted about this book but I was hooked and very involved and so I’m giving it 4 stars. Boyle has basically written an account of her experience of lockdown and she comes across as a frank and witty and sometimes bitter presence. It’s a totally unique kind of book, overlapping with her memories and interpretations of medieval Irish and Welsh literature. There are some off-key moments when one feels that Boyle is worrying too much about what Twitter will make of her, but the books is very pacy and humane and above all honest. I recommend this book.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Anna

  13. 4 out of 5

    Bonnie

  14. 4 out of 5

    Matthias Ammon

  15. 4 out of 5

    Ben

  16. 5 out of 5

    Ellie Cusack

  17. 4 out of 5

    Margaret Dolley

  18. 4 out of 5

    Clara

  19. 5 out of 5

    Treasa

  20. 5 out of 5

    Hannah Dwyer

  21. 5 out of 5

    Dolorosa

  22. 4 out of 5

    Louise Bernstein

  23. 4 out of 5

    Cherie L

  24. 5 out of 5

    Laura Yeoman

  25. 5 out of 5

    Lorraine

  26. 5 out of 5

    Clare

  27. 5 out of 5

    Kate

  28. 4 out of 5

    Emer

  29. 5 out of 5

    Janet

  30. 5 out of 5

    Charlotte

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